Tag Archives: Block 58

Reflecting on Block 58’s Student Voice Summit

Today I attended the Student Voice Summit held by Block 58 on the University of Chicago campus. Students from the University of Chicago, along with students from Northwestern University and surrounding high schools, gathered to discuss how students’ voices play into education. The description of the event reads:

Too often, students’ voices are left unheard by policymakers and leaders. From issues in education to issues in community development, Chicago’s leaders must look to young leaders to build stronger neighborhoods, stronger communities, and ultimately a stronger city.

The event included leaders from student groups across Chicago high school and college campuses. I enjoyed that the conversation was not limited to issues of education, but revolved around the work that students are doing to impact their school communities on a variety of issues. The panel and Q&A was probably my favorite component of the summit, as we heard from leaders from the University of Chicago’s Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance (SDA) and Northwestern’s Class Confessions. These student leaders spoke about their experiences with student leadership and the difficulties of mobilizing a student movement, particularly the difficulties of mobilizing around the realities of socioeconomic status, often considered a taboo subject to speak out about. They spoke of the wide variety of issues that low-income students face, such as social isolation, adjustment to a new environment, asking for academic help, finding financial resources, code-switching between home and school, and balancing paying work with being a full-time student.

The student leaders on this panel spoke about their dedication to community-building, work that is important for low-income students as well as campuses at large. Especially for low-income students who have not been exposed to the culture of academia before, isolation can be devastating to the student’s ability to succeed. For these students, having relationships with and the support of peers with similar backgrounds can be key to success. Just this past week Paul Tough wrote a piece for The New York Times Magazine called “Who Gets to Graduate?” Tough writes about Professor David Laude at UT Austin who recognized the unique challenges that low-income students face once they get to college, and the immense obstacles that stand between them and graduation. As a professor, he implemented additional classes for these students at-risk of falling behind, and by giving them extra support and resources, helped them achieve at even better levels than their higher-income peers. Professor Laude, who now serves as Senior Vice Provost at UT Austin, recognized the need for community-building to help low-income students succeed. He founded the University Leadership Network in order to gather students with financial need and help them gain leadership skills in the university setting.

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Matt Collins, Co-President of Block 58, helps post ideas that students have written about how to create opportunities for organizational development in student-led movements.

While programs such as those implemented by Professor Laude are laudable, it is important to recognize the additional benefits of community-building via student-led mobilization efforts. Student leaders in UChicago’s SDA and Northwestern’s Class Confessions have a student’s perspective and can fill needs that administrators may not understand (for instance, SDA is working to publish guides that list restaurants which offer student discounts). Ultimately, the most profound success will probably be derived by combining the skills and resources of both university officials and student leaders. Faculty, administrators, and students must join forces in order to create an environment in which all students can openly discuss their challenges and find the resources they need to thrive socially and academically in the university setting.

 

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Brief Takeaways from Visiting the Academy for Global Citizenship

Today I visited the Academy for Global Citizenship in Chicago with a student organization I’m involved with at school, Block 58. Honestly I had no idea what I was in for beforehand–no clue what kind of school it was, or even where it was–but it was a surprisingly interesting visit to a very unique school setting, and I’m really glad I went. 

While at the ACG, we had the opportunity to meet briefly with the woman who founded the school. She is an extraordinarily energetic and enthusiastic person (I mean, really energetic) who had the idea to start a school focused on global, holistic education after visiting about 85 countries, going to schools in many of these countries, and essentially becoming an autodidact in international educational systems. When speaking of her initial encounters with the CPS in her attempts to start a charter school, she readily acknowledged her initial naiveté, which is something I always respect, particularly when it comes accompanied by retrospection and visible growth. Though now a successful school founder who has “figured out” how to give the CPS what they want to hear, she still seems fairly idealistic in her future plans for the school’s growth, though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Particularly in education, it can be really difficult to determine where the line falls between naive and productive types of idealism. It speaks a lot to what we’ve been discussing about “charismatic leadership” in one of my sociology of education courses, which is a really fascinating theoretical concept when applied to the practical implementation of charter schools, particularly in inner-city neighborhood bureaucracies….but I digress. 

What really impressed me about ACG was the (seemingly) successful implementation of a focus on holistic education (I say seemingly successful because we didn’t actually have too much time to observe classroom practice, but from the few classroomswe saw, the children seemed really engaged with the curriculum). There is a focus on wellness and health that certainly is not common in public schools, though it should be. The school provides students with breakfast, lunch, and snack, all from a fully sustainable and organic kitchen. They also learn from young age how to separate recycling, composting, and landfill garbage, which is not only healthy for the earth, but also plays a large role in helping children understand the consequences of their actions and gain a sense of responsibility for the world around them from a young age, which is always an important skill to acquire. Furthermore, they learn how to read nutrition labels from a young age as well, and last year provided a workshop where the students got to show off their skills by teaching their parents about nutrition labels. This anecdote highlighted the community-building spirit of the school, which is a really impressive ideal, though I’m always hesitant in believing that any school or small-scale institution can really engage the parents who could benefit the most (ie, those who have the least time/opportunity to get involved in such outreach efforts).ImageA mural on the wall at the ACG shows the importance of learning about environmental and personal wellness for students. 

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